Faculty & Staff

Maryela Amaro Faculty Member amaro@cjacademy.org Bio
Maryela joined the Chicago Jesuit Academy community in the summer of 2022. Prior to that, she spent 5 years working in the early childhood field on the west side of Chicago. Maryela studied elementary education at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and is looking forward to continuing her education in early childhood education. She is currently teaching 3rd grade humanities and social studies at CJA.

Joanna Balla-Elliott Faculty Member balla-elliott@cjacademy.org Bio
Joanna Balla-Elliott holds a degree in Literary Studies and Education from Middlebury College. Upon graduating, she joined the Shady Hill School’s Teacher Training Center as an apprentice teacher. She taught in both a private school and a Boston public school during her apprentice year. During the TTC year, Joanna also worked to receive a Masters of Arts in Curriculum and Teaching from Boston University. She went on to teach at an all-boys school in Massachusetts for two years before moving to Chicago. Currently, Joanna serves as a Language Arts and Reading teacher on the 5th and 6th grade team at Chicago Jesuit Academy.
Thomas Beckley Principal beckley@cjacademy.org Bio
Thomas Beckley began his career as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Columbia University. While serving as an officer in Rome, Italy, he completed the first cycles of Philosophy and Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has traveled throughout Europe and is fluent in Italian and German. He holds a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Loyola University Chicago and formerly taught Social Studies at Gordon Technical High School and coached cross country and track.
Andrea Bonaccorsi Faculty Member bonaccorsi@cjacademy.org Bio
Andrea Bonaccorsi joined CJA’s faculty in 2019 as the 7th Grade Language Arts and Reading Teacher. Prior to joining CJA, she graduated from Marquette University with a degree in Secondary Education and English in 2016. She began her career in education at Messmer Saint Rose in Milwaukee, WI. In her two years at Saint Rose, Andrea taught 7th Grade Literacy, Social Studies, and Religion classes and coached the Girls on the Run team. From 2018-2019, she completed the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities at The University of Chicago while working at the Behavioral Insights in Parenting Lab at The Harris School of Public Policy.
Thelma Breckenridge College & Career Persistence Counselor breckenridge@cjacademy.org Bio
Thelma Breckenridge joined CJA in 2022. Prior to her time at CJA, she worked for organizations that served youths with career and trade opportunities. Thelma’s passion is to educate and empower the next generation of young leaders. Three words that describe her are Inquisitive, Driven, and Passionate.

Donna Bronner Speech & Language Pathologist bronner@cjacademy.org Bio
Donna Bronner recently joined the CJA community in the Fall of 2022. Prior to joining CJA as part-time faculty, she served as the full-time Speech Language Pathologist at Percy Julian Middle School for over 25 years in Oak Park-School District #97. Mrs. Bronner earned her Masters of Health Science in Communications Disorders from Governors State University. She also earned her clinical competency certification, or CCC’s with licensure through ASHA and the State of Illinois. Mrs. Bronner holds a second Masters in Education Leadership with a Type 75 endorsement in Administration, and is currently enrolled in the SLPD program at Northwestern University. Mrs. Bronner is a Minister, and Educational leader in her community where she founded a NFP Organization called “Bridge To Destiny” for the purpose of assisting & counseling women impacted by domestic violence. She enjoys spending time with family, reading, decorating, traveling, and creating programs for empowering others.
Keith Brooks Specials Faculty Member brooks@cjacademy.org Bio
Keith Brooks is an active performing and recording drummer in the Chicago area. He gained an interest in drums at the age of two years while watching his uncle play every Sunday morning. He began formal training in elementary school in Oak Park and discovered jazz. The guidance he received in elementary, junior high and high school led to a Bachelor’s of Music in Music Business from Elmhurst College and Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance from DePaul University. At DePaul he studied with Bob Rummage. These degrees have led him to be a private drum instructor. He has traveled overseas to perform in The Czech Republic and Canada. He has shared the stage with a number of great Jazz musicians and composers such as Phil Woods, Benny Goldson, Steve Weist, Bill Holman, Warren Luening, Tom Scott, Patrick Williams, Gary Smulyan, Jeff Hamilton and Mark Colby. He is also currently the Minister of Music at the Chicago Salem M.B.H. Church in Chicago, where he instructs the choirs and musicians in Gospel music. He is currently endorsed by T-Cymbals and Scorpion Percussion (drum stick company).
Ahmad Brown Facilities Assistant brown@cjacademy.org Bio
Prince Brunt Instructional Assistant brunt@cjacademy.org Bio
Prince Brunt is a member of CJA’s 2015 class. He has worked in the restaurant, automotive, and retail industries. Prince is a lifelong Chicagoan and his favorite NBA team is the Lakers. He currently works in our 5th grade classrooms as an Instructional Assistant.
Trinity Campagna Faculty Member campagna@cjacademy.org Bio
Trinity Campagna graduated from The University of Chicago with a Bachelors of Science in Molecular Engineering on the Chemistry and Soft Materials Track. As an Odyssey Scholar at UChicago, Trinity worked in the Tirrell Lab doing research on polyelectrolyte complex micelles and DNA self-assembly. She also worked as a barista, a door attendant at the university pub, and as a student ambassador at the Maroon Line while completing her undergraduate studies. Outside of work and academics, she also enjoys music and was a member of Unaccompanied Women A Cappella at UChicago as well being the president of a cappella on campus before graduating. Currently, Trinity teaches 5th and 6th grade science and assists with 5/6th mathematics at CJA.
Marques Carroll Specials Faculty Member carroll@cjacademy.org Bio

Chicago-based trumpeter Marques Carroll is a bold performer and passionate educator, he is dedicated to preserving the authentic culture of jazz and spreading his holistic love of music around the world.

Born into a musical family in St. Louis, Marques fell in love with the trumpet when he was only 8 years old. His grandfather worked with jazz legend Clark Terry who would become a major influence on the young musician. Marques grew up absorbing the blues of Louis Armstrong and the laid back sounds of Miles Davis, eventually going on to study music at DePaul University graduating in 2001 with his BA in Jazz Studies Performance.

Marques has worked and shared the stage with jazz powerhouses like Carmen Bradford, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Count Basie Band), Etienne Charles, Christian McBride, Jon Faddis, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Randy Weston (Chicago Jazz Ensemble). Marques’ compositions are soulful explorations of culture and consciousness. A storyteller at heart, he uses his horn to break down barriers between genres, writing evocative music that speaks directly to the soul. “Every instrument plays a character,” Marques says, describing his methods. “I want people to open their minds to what the story is about. Every piece I write is purposeful.”

In addition to his prolific performing career, Marques is an accomplished educator. He cultivated a robust jazz program for the TF South High School music department in the south suburbs of Chicago. He was the leading Jazz trumpet instructor for New Trier High School’s music department for 16 years. He has worked with the Jazz Institute as a clinician throughout Chicago. He also regularly holds clinics and master classes around the country as well at Universities, High schools and prestigious Jazz festivals.

Marques continues to educate students in music at UIC as a trumpet instructor and Jazz Combo director while working at CJA as a faculty member. He created the music program for Chicago Jesuit Academy and continues to develop the music program now in his 16th year. He also worked and contributed to the CP department as a counselor.

Marques is the leader of the Trumpet Summit and co-leader of the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective, and also a permanent sub-member of The Count Basie Orchestra. His solo debut record, The Ancestors’ Call, which was a Grammy Considered best Jazz album of the year in 2021 is now available everywhere. Marques also received an Emmy for his contribution to the documentary, Invisible History: Middle Florida’s Hidden Roots, on PBS.

Gavorshey Childress Faculty Member childress@cjacademy.org Bio
Gavorshey Childress is a native of Chicago’s Southside community. He attended multiple high schools before landing at Amos Alonzo Stagg HS where he played basketball alongside NBA star Max Strus. After graduating from Stagg HS, he attended Illinois State University in Normal, IL. While attending Illinois State he was a member of the Women’s basketball practice team and involved in other organizations throughout the campus. He majored in Recreation Management and later received his Master’s degree in Recreation Administration with aspirations of becoming an athletic director. Throughout his time at Illinois State University, Gavorshey volunteered in a high school as a P.E. assistant and at various parks such as Moore Park in the Austin community. Gavorshey is passionate about being a role model for the next generation, and showing kids from rougher communities that the world has so much more to offer outside of their neighborhoods. Outside of work, Gavorshey still enjoys playing basketball in various gyms across the city.
Darryl Clayton Social Worker clayton@cjacademy.org Bio
Darryl Clayton is a native Chicagoan and a graduate from Englewood High School, Columbia College (B.A., Television Broadcasting) and the University of Chicago (MSW, SSA Program). He has over 15 years of direct services with children, youth, adults and families. Darryl’s direct services career includes being a part-time gym teacher, a licensed child welfare specialist, a correctional youth counselor, an adolescent services coordinator, a family reconnection specialist, an assistant project director for a federal grant project and a clinical therapist. These experiences have allowed him to work with a wide variety of young people throughout the Chicagoland area to help them identify and process their needs while developing strategies for goal achievement and positive, strength-based, pro-social outcomes.
Danté Coker Faculty Member coker@cjacademy.org Bio
Danté Coker is a 2015 graduate of Thomas J.Corcoran High School on the south side of Syracuse, NY on Glenwood Avenue. After graduation from Corcoran, he went to Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. While attending Ithaca College, he was a student athlete on the men’s football team. He majored in Physical Education with the goal of becoming a physical education teacher and coach of a school. Dante’ returned home to Syracuse and worked as a Teaching Assistant, and boy’s modified 7/8th grade basketball coach. He went on to complete a long term goal of becoming a personal trainer, where he earned his certification for personal training at Planet Fitness. Dante’ also has experience as a Life Coach where he worked with a caseload of 20 students from grades 9-12th to improve their success with academics and behavior.
Michelle Concepcion High School Bridge Counselor concepcion@cjacademy.org Bio
Michelle joined the Chicago Jesuit Academy community in the summer of 2022. Prior to that, she spent a year as an educator at Intrinsic Schools. Michelle graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a focus on Education Policy and Chicanx and Latinx Studies. She is a current graduate student at DePaul University studying Curriculum Studies. She is currently working under the High School Bridge department at CJA along with their partnership with Chavez Multicultural Elementary School.

Amber Cooper High School Bridge Counselor acooper@cjacademy.org Bio
Amber Cooper is a former multimedia journalist for a news station in Rockford, IL. During her time as a journalist, she covered various topics ranging from youth mental health to lifestyle and entertainment. She received her Bachelor’s from Howard University and a Graduate degree from Northwestern University Medill. Amber is passionate about education reform and hopes to empower the next generation to succeed and achieve their full potential. Outside of work, Amber enjoys creative art activities such as pottery and painting.

Charlotte Curtis Director of Parent Partnership curtis@cjacademy.org Bio
Charlotte Curtis came to CJA with over 15 years of social and customer service experience. She worked with the Cook County Social Service Department within the Domestic Violence and Diversity Units. She was co-owner of Curtis & Curtis Mobile Notary Service where she focused on working with companies and clients notarizing various documents. She earned her Bachelor degree in Law Enforcement Administration and a Master’s degree in Sociology from Western Illinois University. She has a son who graduated from CJA as a member of the Class of 2015 and currently attends Saint John’s University in Collegeville Minnesota. She along with her family have been active members of United Baptist Church located in the North Lawndale Community over the past 20 years.
Sydnei Curtis Programs Assistant scurtis@cjacademy.org Bio
Elizabeth Del Toro Assistant Director of High School Bridge deltoro@cjacademy.org Bio
Liz joined the High School Bridge team after teaching math, science, and social studies in Spanish at St. Procopius Dual Language School in Chicago for three years. Liz earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from ITESO, the Jesuit University of Guadalajara. After college, Liz joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in New York City, where she served as a community liaison for a year and has passionately and actively worked in Education ever since.
Arieanna Dorsey Instructional Assistant dorsey@cjacademy.org Bio
Arieanna is a graduate of Harold Washington Community College where she received her associate’s degree in elementary education. In her first year, she did a lot of observing and volunteering with younger educators. She was previously employed at Bath and Body Works as a sales associate. In the summer of 2022, Arieanna was blessed with the opportunity to join the CJA community and closely work with the 3/4th grade students as an Instructional Assistant. She is devoted to successfully receiving her bachelor and master’s degrees and becoming a younger grade level teacher in the future.
Meghan Dowd Faculty Member mdowd@cjacademy.org Bio
Ravae Duhaney Director of Talent duhaney@cjacademy.org Bio
Originally from Maryland, Ravae Duhaney attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County where she studied Dance and Elementary Education. Upon graduating, she joined Teach for America and relocated to Chicago to teach Pre-Kindergarten. She received a Masters of Science in Early Childhood Education from Dominican University and continued teaching children ages three to ten for a total of ten years in Chicago, Guatemala City, and Shanghai. Since joining CJA in 2019, she has served as a faculty member, Development team member and Volunteer Coordinator. She now serves as CJA’s Director of Talent.
Anne Durkin Learning Resource Center Faculty durkin@cjacademy.org Bio
Anne Durkin arrived at CJA in 2010 after graduating from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and Human Development. Anne provides students with academic interventions in our Learning Resource Center. Previously, she was a faculty member at CJA for 12 years teaching mathematics and serving as a grade level dean.
Nadiyah Edwards High School Bridge Counselor edwards@cjacademy.org Bio
Nadiyah Edwards is a Chicago native who graduated from Howard University with her Master’s in Social Work and went on to practice as psychotherapist for adult women and teenage girls. She has also worked in health tele-research, non-profit education, and volunteer and talent recruitment. Nadiyah has a passion for connecting with people and using introspection and transparency to empower interpersonal relationships.
Maria Eidietis Faculty Member eidietis@cjacademy.org Bio
Maria Eidietis came to Chicago in 1999 after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Notre Dame. She taught middle school reading and language arts and earned a Masters of Humanities from the University of Chicago before joining the founding faculty of Chicago Jesuit Academy in 2005. After time away, Maria rejoined the faculty of CJA in 2018 and currently teaches 6th Grade Language Arts/Reading.
Lauren Fessler Director of High School Bridge fessler@cjacademy.org Bio
Lauren Fessler joined CJA in 2018. She started her career as a Teach For America corps member, and she taught fifth grade and middle school STEM for four years. In addition to teaching, she coached Western School of Science and Technology’s soccer team to a state championship. Lauren is originally from Lexington, Kentucky, and she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with a minor in Education, Schooling, and Society from the University of Notre Dame.
Andrea Finnegan CFO finnegan@cjacademy.org Bio
Andrea began her career as a certified public accountant with Crowe, LLP. She went on to hold financial and operations leadership roles at various nonprofit organizations in the areas of homelessness, disabilities and higher education. Andrea earned her BA in Accounting from St Mary’s University, a certificate in nonprofit excellence from the University of Notre Dame and a certificate in K-12 education from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Haley Fischer Development Officer fischer@cjacademy.org Bio
Haley Fischer comes to CJA after working as a Residential Counselor at Boys Hope Girls Hope, where she managed one of their boys’ homes for four years. While working full time, she pursued her Masters in Social Work with a specialization in Leadership and Development and a sub-specialization in Group Work at Loyola University of Chicago and graduated in May of 2021.
Roger Garvert Development Officer garvert@cjacademy.org Bio
Roger Garvert joined the Development Office at CJA in June of 2019, after over 30 years of experience in sales and engineering in the telecommunications and semiconductor industries. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering with high distinction from the University of Kansas, a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Colorado at Denver. He is an active volunteer at his church and board member of a local non-profit organization supporting adult day services.
Gretchen Geerts-Melaniphy Learning Resource Center Faculty geerts@cjacademy.org Bio
Gretchen Geerts-Melaniphy joined Chicago Jesuit Academy in 2019, after teaching in the Archdiocese of Chicago for 6 years. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Theology at Marquette University and her Masters in Elementary Education from Loyola University Chicago as part of the LU-CHOICE (Loyola University Chicago Opportunities in Catholic Education) program. She earned her Learning Behavior Specialist – 1 endorsement through Saint Xavier University and is looking forward to working with the students in the Learning Resource Center as a Math Interventionist.
Gerry Geyer Director of Facilities geyer@cjacademy.org Bio
Gerry Geyer joined CJA’s team in the winter of 2015. Prior to CJA, he spent two decades in the Futures Industry, in addition to several positions in retail and office management.
Mary Grawe Vice President of Development grawe@cjacademy.org Bio
Mary Grawe came to CJA having spent three years working for a fundraising management company at both the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and the University of Chicago. Prior to this, she spent two years teaching fourth grade in the Mississippi Delta through Teach For America. During that time, she also served as the director of the school musical. It was her experience working at Lexington Elementary School that led her to join the CJA community. Mary is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Dayton.
Alex Hess Manager of Data Operations hess@cjacademy.org Bio
Alex Hess began his career as a tutor at an Upward Bound program where he discovered his passion for creating equity in education. From there, he moved to Saga Education where he tutored high school students in math inside of CPS schools. Joining CJA’s High School Bridge Program in 2022, Alex brings his passion for justice and equity to the CJA team, helping alumni find their high school of best fit. He received his bachelor’s in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago in 2015. Outside of work, Alex likes to play D and D and all kinds of strategy games.
Armario Hill, Sr. Instructional Assistant hill@cjacademy.org Bio
Armario Hill is a lifelong member of the Austin Community. He is a graduate of Charles A. Prosser Career Academy. He has worked in the travel industry, the United States Post Office and for the US Census Bureau. As the father of one of our alumni (Armario Hill, Jr.), Armario has volunteered countless hours at CJA before joining our staff.
Rebecca Hoesterey Social Worker hoesterey@cjacademy.org Bio
Rebecca is native of north central Florida, where she completed her B.S. in Health Education & Behavior with the University of Florida in 2018. Upon graduation, Rebecca served for a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a campus minister at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, MN. She continued her work with the Jesuit tradition for an additional two years through high school parish ministry and middle school teaching at Holy Trinity Church & School near Georgetown University. Rebecca completed her Master of Social Work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2023. Through this program, Rebecca interned in local public schools, where she participated in SEL-based after-school programming at the elementary and middle school levels and worked in a student services office at the high school level. Rebecca is joyful about the values of spirituality, community, equity, and service and the promotion of human dignity and healthy family systems. She is grateful to have joined the intentional community of CJA in 2023 and to support students, families, and educators through the Nativity model of education.
Matthew Houlihan Faculty Member houlihan@cjacademy.org Bio
Matthew Houlihan earned a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Education from the University of Notre Dame. He taught in Mobile, Alabama and Champaign, Illinois before joining the CJA faculty in 2009. A former dean at CJA, he now serves as a full time faculty member in the social studies and science departments.
Camilla Inman High School Bridge Counselor inman@cjacademy.org Bio
Camilla Inman began her career as a science teacher in CPS and a rowing coach for St. Ignatius College Prep before joining CJA as a High School Bridge Counselor. She graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s in Biology and Secondary Education. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Youth Development from UIC. Outside of CJA, she spends her time coaching rowing for Recovery on Water, a team for breast cancer survivors.

Carole Kash Librarian kash@cjacademy.org Bio
Carole Kash joined CJA as a volunteer in January of 2018. She received a BS in Chemistry from Loyola in 1981, followed by an MBA in Finance also from Loyola in 1983. She then worked as a Vice President and Division Manager of Commercial Banking with American National Bank, followed by earning a JD from Chicago Kent in 1996. While raising her two children, she was a librarian at Holy Family Catholic Academy for ten years, along with fundraising and volunteering at several Chicago area non-profit organizations.
Jay Kemper Director of College & Career Persistence kemper@cjacademy.org Bio
Jay Kemper joined CJA after three years of service with the human rights organization, Heartland Alliance. At Heartland, he taught and counseled immigrant and refugee youth while working to reunify them with their families. Jay is bilingual in Spanish and has worked with students across the globe, teaching at a grade school in Santiago, an orphanage in Buenos Aires, and a bilingual college-preparatory high school in Budapest. A native of Chicago, he holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Spanish from the University of Dayton magna cum laude.
Pamela Kiefer School Nurse kiefer@cjacademy.org Bio
Pam Kiefer has been a Nurse for over 25 years with experience working at Evanston Hospital, as a Pulmonary Nurse with NorthShore University Health Systems, with professional athletes of a Chicago sports team, and as an independent consultant for pharmaceutical companies developing new medications. She has worked as a School Nurse for over 12 years, with experience working with Pre-Kindergarten through High School & College age students, including Special Education . She is an American Heart Association CPR and First Aid Instructor and Illinois Department of Public Health Certified Vision and Hearing Screener. Pam is a member of the National Association of School Nurses and the Illinois State School Nurse Association. She grew up in Naperville and has lived in the Chicagoland area most of her life.
Katie Kuhns Faculty Member kuhns@cjacademy.org Bio
Katie Kuhns is a member of the lower school team who came to CJA after three years of teaching in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, she attended Creighton University, where she earned a degree in Justice and Society with a minor in Political Science. Katie then went on to earn her Masters of Education in Elementary Education from Loyola University Chicago through the LU-CHOICE service through teaching program.
Obed Liera Sanchez Manager of Post Secondary Pathways sanchez@cjacademy.org Bio
Obed Liera Sanchez joined CJA in December of 2022 as a College and Career Persistence Counselor. A Chicago native and University of Illinois at Chicago graduate, he is an accomplished educator with experience in social service, higher education, project management, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. He has a strong dedication and commitment to leading students towards meaningful employment, providing trauma-informed support throughout different areas of focus, and developing effective programs and processes.He has worked in organizations such as Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Erie Family Health Center, and the University of Illinois at Chicago which have all empowered his development of a diverse range of skills, including facilitating workshops and programs, managing teams, and coordinating various initiatives.
Matthew Lynch President lynch@cjacademy.org Bio
Matthew Lynch began his career in education as a teacher at a federal prison in Virginia and a juvenile detention facility in Maryland. He later taught and coached at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, a Jesuit Nativity middle school in Baltimore. Upon returning to his hometown of Chicago, Matthew worked as a teacher and administrator at St. Ignatius College Prep. He subsequently assembled and led the team that has founded Chicago Jesuit Academy. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Georgetown cum laude and a Master of Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis. He is a recipient of St. Ignatius College Prep’s Alumni Medal, the Community Renewal Society’s 35-under-35 Award, St. Josaphat Parish’s Unity Award, and Georgetown University’s Kraft Medal.
Karla Lyons Faculty Member lyons@cjacademy.org Bio
Karla received her Bachelor’s degree in Health Studies, and Master’s in Health Education and Promotion; from Walden University and will be pursuing her second Master’s in Elementary Education in the fall of 2023. Her love for educating youth began 8 years ago at Chicago Public Schools as a Teacher Assistant. Karla will be teaching 5the grade girls in Humanities and Social Studies. Her hobbies are reading books and listening to house music.
Rebecca Malley Learning Resource Center Faculty malley@cjacademy.org Bio
Rebecca Malley is an Interventionist in the Learning Resource Center. She joined us after volunteering here for several years. Rebecca is passionate about equity in education and has many years of experience volunteering in youth organizations. She is a graduate of the University of Washington where she studied Economics and UCSD where she focused on Marketing and Product Development. Rebecca enjoyed a career in Industrial Marketing and Product Development before leaving to focus on family and is now thrilled to be working professionally at CJA.
Mike Mason Dean of 7th Grade & Faculty Member mason@cjacademy.org Bio
Mike Mason came to CJA after spending two years with Teach For America in the Mississippi Delta, teaching 7th and 8th grade math at Hazlehurst Middle School. He graduated from Boston College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in History. While at Boston College he volunteered as a tutor at a local grade school, piquing his interest in education. An avid sports enthusiast, he also has served as a football and basketball coach. In addition to his work at CJA, he recently completed a Master of Business Administration degree at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Anne Metzger Benefits Assistant metzger@cjacademy.org Bio
Anne Metzger began her career at Continental Bank as a Personal Trust Administrator. She then worked as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) for Ernst & Young for several years where she created and delivered financial education programs for companies and coordinated with human resources and benefits personnel. She also worked closely with high net worth individuals/families doing personal financial planning. She received her Bachelors of Science in Marketing at the University of Illinois (1989) in addition to her Masters in Business Administration in Finance from DePaul University (1994). During a career break while raising her four children, she made volunteering a priority and served in numerous roles at St. Francis Xavier Church and School in addition to Nazareth Academy High School.
Kya Minor Programs Assistant minor@cjacademy.org Bio
Kya Minor is a Chicago South Side native and joined CJA in August 2023. She went to Harold Washington College for childhood education and transferred to Denver Community College to study psychology. She has over eight years of experience in the education field. She’s been a teacher assistant from pre-kindergarten to 6th grade and taught high school technology classes in 2022.
Mary Mohanon Instructional Assistant mohanon@cjacademy.org Bio
Mary Mohanan is a graduate of the Austin High School. She worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for several years as an Investment Trader. She also worked as Director of the C.B. Williams Choraleers and is a soloist for the Mercy Seat Baptist Church. Mary is a mother of one child and a grandmother of five.
Claudia Montenegro High School Bridge Counselor montenegro@cjacademy.org Bio
Claudia earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Trade in Ecuador. After college she moved to the United States with her family. She has a son who graduated from CJA as a member of the class 2019 who currently attends Cornell College in Iowa. Claudia has eagerly participated in various roles within the education system serving as a volunteer Teacher Assistant and as a member of the Parent Patrol. Furthermore, Claudia has actively engaged with fellow parents through the CJA parents book club, encouraging intellectual discussions and fostering a sense of community among families.
Megan Ptacek Mortensen Vice President of College & Career Persistence mortensen@cjacademy.org Bio
Megan Mortensen began her career as a reporter for The American Banker, a daily financial newspaper in New York. In 2001, she was accepted to the New York City Teaching Fellows Program, a program to bring new teachers into under-performing schools through alternative certifications. She taught seventh-grade Language Arts in Brooklyn, New York. Through that program she received her master’s degree in secondary education at Brooklyn College. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Villanova University and is a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep. Before joining Chicago Jesuit Academy, she worked as a Project Manager for KHLowery Consulting, a higher education publishing consulting firm in Chicago.
Meredith Mosbacher Director of Communications & Benefactor Engagement mosbacher@cjacademy.org Bio
Meredith Mosbacher’s experience has included working at Newsweek/Daily Beast’s Women in the World running their Young Women’s Leadership Conference, serving as Chief Media Officer for TO THE MARKET | Survivor-made Goods and creating the curriculum for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls’ Road Show. Before joining Chicago Jesuit Academy, Meredith worked as Program Director at art nonprofit, Project&. She has her MSc in Gender, Media, and Culture from the London School of Economic’s Gender Institute, and concentrated in both Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences and Performance Studies at Brown University.
Quincy Murry Director of IT murry@cjacademy.org Bio
Quincy Murry joined CJA’s Technology Department in July of 2022. With a decade of experience in the IT industry, he has a proven track record of success in leading teams and implementing innovative solutions. Born and raised in Chicago, he developed a love for all things tech from an early age. Quincy is happily married with three children, and enjoys spending free time exploring new technologies and working on side projects. He is an active volunteer at his church and in the community.
Terra Nelson Faculty Member tnelson@cjacademy.org Bio
Terra Nelson is a faculty member at CJA. She comes to CJA after earning a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Saint Mary’s college in 2020. She then began her career as a member of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program. During her time at ACE, she spent two years in San Antonio, TX at Saint John Berchman School teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade while earning a Master of Education degree.

Miranda Olander Career and Community Partnerships Manager olander@cjacademy.org Bio
Miranda Olander first got a taste for education in Chicago Public Schools when she began her year of service with City Year in 2016. She worked to tutor and mentor 3rd-grade students at Chalmer’s Elementary School in North Lawndale. She has over 8 years of experience in customer service and working with students ages 5 to 25. Miranda earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Spanish from Monmouth College. She is so happy to have joined the CJA family and is grateful every day for the opportunity to work with CJA students and alumni.
Mari Oliver Development Officer oliver@cjacademy.org Bio
Originally from Texas, Mari graduated magna cum laude from DePaul University in 2022, earning her Bachelor of Arts in African & Black Diaspora Studies. While at DePaul University, Mari worked for the Department of Housing for four years and was also a member of the The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which allows students from higher education settings to learn alongside incarcerated students. After graduation, Mari went on to study at Loyola University’s School of Law. After being called to help students from diverse backgrounds navigate the education system, Mari departed law school and joined CJA’s development team in the summer of 2023. Mari is passionate about helping those impacted by systemic inequality and is hoping to use both her personal background and education to help students. In her free time, Mari enjoys cooking, exploring Chicago, and watching true crime documentaries with her rescue dog, Whittaker.
Mary Grace O’Shea Faculty Member o’shea@cjacademy.org Bio
Mary Grace O’Shea is from Grosse Pointe, MI and is a graduate of College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. There, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Spanish. In Worcester, she worked with the Boys and Girls Club and in various schools where she grew in her passion for working with young people, especially in the realm of education. She continued on to earn her M.Ed. through the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. During her time in ACE, she taught 4th grade in Denver, CO for two years, while also running a student Book Club! Mary Grace is so grateful to be part of the CJA community on the 5th/6th grade team!
Alzario Palmer Instructional Aide alzariopalmer@cjacademy.org Bio
Holly Pelz Faculty Member pelz@cjacademy.org Bio
Holly Pelz graduated from Elmhurst College as a learning behavior specialist. She has been working with children and adults with disabilities for over 10 years. She has experience and training in behavior analysis, as well as writing and implementing IEPs. She is a certified Master IEP Coach and an advocate for individuals with disabilities. Holly hopes to continue helping students of all ability levels achieve their personal and academic goals as they continue their education at CJA.
Danielle Pernini Director of Development Operations pernini@cjacademy.org Bio
Danielle Pernini joined CJA’s Business and Development team in 2018. A Chicago-suburbs native, she graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Danielle has served in various educational settings throughout her career – from middle school to higher education, in both for-profit and non-profit institutions. Her experience includes communications and marketing, recruitment, event planning, and fundraising.
Will Remnick College & Career Persistence Counselor remnick@cjacademy.org Bio
Will Remnick graduated from Susquehanna University with his degree in communication and a concentration in Public Relations. Since graduating, Will has lived in New York City where he worked for a youth sports and development organization focused on bringing affordable & accessible programming to diverse communities across the city. His role was split between managing on-site program operations for a partner school and improving the company’s diversity, equity & inclusion strategy and initiatives. Will is eager to be part of the CJA community and contribute to the positive impact CJA makes on students and alumni alike. In his free time, Will loves to cook, listen to music, and is a passionate New York sports fan.
Maria Ritten Faculty Member ritten@cjacademy.org Bio
Maria Ritten is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Sociology. Prior to college, she grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, attending St. Giles School and Fenwick High School, both of which helped her to become interested in Catholic education. After college graduation, Maria began her career through the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Teaching Fellows program. In ACE, Maria spent 2 years in Denver teaching fifth grade and coaching volleyball at Guardian Angels School while also earning her M.Ed. in Elementary Education. Maria is very excited to be back in Chicago and be part of the CJA community as a 5/6 boys teacher!
Caroline Rooney Faculty Member rooney@cjacademy.org Bio
Caroline Rooney is in her third year as a faculty member at CJA. Prior to her time at CJA, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Latino Studies from Notre Dame in 2018. She then began her career as a member of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program. During her time in ACE, Caroline spent two years in Indianapolis at Holy Cross Central School where she taught fourth and fifth grade, served as the athletic director, and earned a Master of Education degree. At CJA, she teaches humanities, social studies, and supports the bike club.
Valencia Rucker Faculty Member rucker@cjacademy.org Bio
Valencia Rucker is a Columbia College Chicago graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing communications and business. She spent over 23 years in management, operations, and as a director for companies within the Chicago area. In 2010, she started a ministry and began traveling, planting churches, developing ministry leaders, and opening bible training centers throughout the world. In 2011, Valencia graduated from theLiving Word Bible Training Center and received ministerial licensing, ordination, and apostolic affirmation through Dr. Bill Winston and LWCC. She also studied pastoral ministry at Living Word Christian Outreach Ministry, IL 2005-2008, and received her masters and D. Div theological degrees from Kingdom University of Indiana. Valencia worked as a high school educational coach for 3 years and focused on preparing students for college. She taught kindergarten for 3 years and she loves teaching! Valencia is passionate about children and building healthy, loving, and safe spaces for as many as possible. Currently, she is studying for a master’s in education with great hopes of making a positive impact in the lives of others.
Jamarrio Rule Development Officer rule@cjacademy.org Bio
Jae Rule graduated from CJA in 2013 and went on to attend Culver Academies for high school and Central Michigan University for college. He now serves as a Development Officer at CJA. Using his unique experiences and problem solving skills gained from navigating diverse communities, and his passion for mentorship and providing opportunities for those who come after him, he now works to do exactly that and to create a more equitable and fair tomorrow for students and leaders of underrepresented communities
Susan Schaefer Faculty Member schaefer@cjacademy.org Bio
Susan Schaefer joined the CJA faculty in 2022 after working as an attorney in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Grinnell College, a Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and is currently working on a Masters of Education at Dominican University. Currently, Susan serves as a Social Studies, Science and Math teacher in the 7th and 8th grade team.
Billy Schauer Faculty Member schauer@cjacademy.org Bio
Billy Schauer was first introduced to Jesuit principles when he attended Saint Ignatius College Prep for high school. Those ideals had a profound impact on him and guided him towards additional Jesuit institutions. First, Boston College, where he majored in Human Development and Sociology with a minor in History. Upon graduation, he returned home and joined the Loyola University-Chicago Opportunities in Catholic Education (LU-CHOICE) program where he earned an M.Ed. in Elementary Education while teaching at a small Catholic school on the southwest side of the city. He remained at that school for eight more years, primarily teaching Social Studies, coaching basketball, and moderating the student council. During that time, he also earned an M.Ed. in English Language Teaching and Learning and an M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision at Loyola University-Chicago. He is incredibly excited for the opportunity to contribute further to the Jesuit mission through teaching at CJA!
Meredith Schmitt Faculty Member schmitt@cjacademy.org Bio
Meredith Schmitt joined the CJA community in the summer of 2017 and is now a member of the Lower School team. She graduated from Miami University in Oxford, OH, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Middle Childhood Education with concentrations in math, social studies, and science for grades 4-9. She is originally from Cincinnati, OH.
Amber Smith Social Worker asmith@cjacademy.org Bio
Amber Smith is a native of the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s west side and a graduate of Michele Clark High School. She attended Concordia University Chicago where she studied Psychology and Criminal Justice and earned a Bachelor of Arts. Shortly after, Amber dived into public service by providing critical mental health services to one of the largest homeless shelters in the city of Chicago. She was inspired by this work and decided to continue her education in the field of Social Work. Amber went on to obtain a Master of Social Work from Dominican University and to also become a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) in the state of Illinois. Prior to CJA, Amber provided parent education and mental health services to teen mothers at Family Focus in Chicago’s Lawndale community. She has found her passion in serving and being an advocate for others and is thrilled to continue this work at CJA.
Anna Stivers Accounting Clerk stivers@cjacademy.org Bio
Kelly Tyson Head of School tyson@cjacademy.org Bio
Kelly Baker Tyson holds a Master of Arts in Planning, Policy and Leadership Studies from University of Iowa. She has served in public, private independent and charter schools as a general education teacher, special education teacher, and administrator, earning recognition for excellence in teaching mathematics through the St. Louis Science Center and Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb award, participating in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, and earning the Illinois Charter School Principal of the Year award in 2018. Kelly serves as a Board Trustee for American Youth Foundation and North Shore Country Day School. She is a former Board Trustee of Central Institute for the Deaf and former Missouri foster parent. Kelly enjoys spending time with her husband, Cleveland, and daughters Kendall and Karah.
Janet Underwood Academic Consultant underwood@cjacademy.org Bio
Janet Underwood retired from Sacred Heart Schools on Sheridan Road in 2005 where she served for fourteen years, first as Principal of Hardey Preparatory, then as Head of Schools for both the Academy and Hardey Prep and finally as Head of the Lower School of both the Academy and Hardey Prep. Prior to that, she was Dean of Students at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart from 1975 to 1978. Janet earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Barat College of the Sacred Heart, studied Theology at Catholic University of America and earned a Master of Science in Administration degree from University of Notre Dame. She served and completed two three-year terms as a member of the Board of Trustees at St. Ignatius College Prep where she chaired the School Programs Committee. Janet also served a three-year term on the Ancona School Board of Trustees. Mrs. Underwood served as a member of the Educational Committee for the Clinical Pastoral Educational Program of the Church Home at Montgomery Place, a social service agency of the Episcopal Charities and Community Services of Chicago. She also served two, three-year terms on CJA’s Board of Directors, rotating off of the board in June of 2018. Janet continues to serve as a member of the Academic Affairs Committee, which she chaired during her time on the Board.
Byron Vaca Facilities Manager vaca@cjacademy.org Bio
Byron Vaca began his career working for Standard Parking, mainly in downtown Chicago, with Marriott Hotels and restaurants. While at Standard Parking, he also worked for Urban Gateways, an organization that provides cultural events for schools and park districts in Chicago and the suburbs. Byron enjoys listening to music in his free time and has played with groups in South America, Europe and Canada over the last 30 years where he shares his love for Andean music. Prior to joining CJA, Byron also served on the Gourmet Gorilla staff. He loves fixing anything that is broken and is happy to be a member of the Facilities team.
Tom Van Grinsven Vice President of Operations vangrinsven@cjacademy.org Bio
Tom Van Grinsven came to CJA in 2012 after serving as a City Year Corps Member in Boston, where he served at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School. A Chicago native and a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of the Holy Cross where he also served as the captain of the Men’s Varsity Soccer team. In addition to his work at CJA, he earned a Master of Business Administration degree at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in June of 2018.
Teresita Vega Staff Accountant vega@cjacademy.org Bio
Teresita Vega joined CJA’s Accounting team in January 2023. She has spent all of her professional career working in the nonprofit sector in different capacities in the Accounting and Finance fields both in Mexico and the USA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, and a Masters of Business Administration from Lewis University of Romeoville, IL.
Sandhya Venkat Faculty Member venkat@cjacademy.org Bio
Holly Wallace Manager of Transition to High School wallace@cjacademy.org Bio
Holly Wallace joins the High School Bridge team as the Assistant Director, after serving over 3 years as the Director of Education & Workforce Initiatives for the Housing Authority of Cook County where she created scholarship, after-school, and summer job programs in addition to developing workforce training opportunities for Housing Authority clients. She began her work in urban education with Providence Englewood Charter School where she raised funding for the school’s creation and created a tutoring program as well as a mentoring program that is similar to CJA’s High School Bridge program. Holly has a bachelor’s degree in History & Economics from the University of Virginia and an MBA in Finance from Columbia University in New York, NY.
Susan Weber Development Assistant weber@cjacademy.org Bio
Susan Weber joined the Development team in the Fall of 2018. She earned a B.S. in Supply Chain Management from The Pennsylvania State University. Following graduation, she worked for Procter & Gamble in a variety of Transportation and Project Management-related assignments across three locations including Kobe, Japan. During a career break to raise her three children, she made volunteering a priority and served in many roles at schools in both Ridgefield, CT and Naperville, IL, spanning elementary through high school.
Jason Williams Instructional Assistant williams@cjacademy.org Bio
Rashad Young College & Career Persistence Counselor ryoung@cjacademy.org Bio
Rashad joined the Chicago Jesuit Academy community in June of 2023 as a College & Career Persistence Counselor. Prior to coming to CJA, Rashad worked in St. Louis Public Schools as an elementary teacher for one year and spent the last five years at Saint Louis University as a Admission and Career Counselor. He received his Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) in 2017. He followed up by receiving his Master’s in Higher Education from Lindenwood University and is currently obtaining his Master’s in Mental Health Counseling at Webster University. He is looking forward to working with the students, alumni, and families of CJA and making a difference in the community.
Dave Zalesky Student Recruitment, Director of Compliance, Volunteer Coordinator zalesky@cjacademy.org Bio
Dave Zalesky joined CJA as a teacher in the summer of 2017 after attaining a Masters in Education from Northwestern University. Prior to this career switch, he spent 19 years as a floor trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. He also graduated from Duke University with a degree in biomedical engineering. At CJA, Dave currently coordinates Student Recruitment, is the Director of Compliance, and is the Volunteer Coordinator – plus he has taught 5th grade math and Bike Club. Dave grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and currently lives in the city with his wife and two kids.

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